Britain 'still leading US ally'

This Is Lancashire: Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has condemned "sniping" at Britain's military strength Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has condemned "sniping" at Britain's military strength

Britain remains a key player on the world stage and the natural military ally of the United States, despite cutbacks to the armed forces and the Commons vote against air strikes on Syria, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has said.

Speaking in Washington, Mr Hammond sought to reassure Americans of the UK's commitment to the "enduring military and political partnership" between the two nations.

In comments clearly aimed at former US defence secretary Robert Gates - who recently questioned the UK's ability to remain a "full partner" of the US - he hit out at "ill-informed sniping" at British military capabilities.

Addressing the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, Mr Hammond acknowledged Britain had had to take some "tough decisions" on its military priorities, but said that, alongside the US, it was still one of only two large Nato member states to meet the alliance target of spending 2% of GDP on defence.

He warned that criticism of Britain's willingness stand to alongside the US in times of crisis, risked becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"All too often, I hear the sound of undermining: on this side of the Atlantic, people, some of whom should know better, directing often ill-informed sniping at UK military capabilities, questioning whether the US-UK relationship is any longer meaningful," he said.

"Their speculation is slavishly repeated and amplified by the media in London in what risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy."

With the US quadrennial defence review calling for greater collaboration with allies and partners, he said that Britain was entitled to be considered "first in line".

"When I look around, while we have our challenges, I see no nation more capable than the UK of playing that role. No nation with the same depth and breadth of interoperability. No nation with the same degree of alignment in diplomatic outlook and policy. No nation with the same strength of defence industrial partnership," he said.

"If the US is resolved to work with partners, the UK has a clear and credible claim to be the first in line. That is the way it has been for generations. That is the way we are both determined to keep it. No matter what the chattering classes may think."

Mr Hammond, who earlier held talks with his US counterpart Chuck Hagel about the crisis in Ukraine, insisted that the Commons vote last August against military action against Syria - which led to the US abandoning its plans for air strikes - did not mark a retreat from the world stage.

"The circumstances, timing and facts of the vote were very particular. Even those who caused defeat for the Government were at pains to emphasise that its significance should not be construed more widely," he said.

"It does not mean we have lost our appetite to intervene; and it does not imply a retreat from international engagement by Britain or the British people. Our economy, our geography and our history ensure that that will not happen.

"We remain determined to continue to play our part on the world stage - and to do so as an ally and partner of the US."

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